Nutrisystem is for losers

Preplanned meals worked for us, but the holidays lie ahead.

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Nutrisystem sells frozen hamburgers and chicken sandwiches that can be popped into the microwave. Add a fresh slice of tomato and lettuce and it's really good. — George Brennan
A snack of fresh-cut vegetables and hummus is a great alternative to chips and dip. — George Brennan

After a summer of eating and drinking anything I wanted — fried scallops, onion rings, lobster rolls, beer, wine, and rum punches; really good and delicious rum punches at Nomans — I had to make a change. I was the heaviest I’d been in my life. I felt bloated, winded, and old. I looked at photos of myself and cringed. The Snapchat filter could not remove 20 pounds.

The combination of bad food and virtually no exercise was taking its toll.

I was fortunate. My wife was feeling like she needed to make a change too. I could probably diet alone, but it would be so much tougher. Having a partner I can trust and commiserate with and get help from when my willpower alone couldn’t keep me away from the Reese’s or a DQ Blizzard made all the difference.

Truth be told, my wife did most of the legwork, researching diet plans with prepared foods. All I had to do was commit to doing what needed to be done. Another key factor for us is we’re empty nesters for the first time in 20 years, so there’s no excuse about having to make certain foods that our kids like, or filling the pantry with junk food “for the kids.”

The stars aligned perfectly to try something new.

We picked Nutrisystem, which was offering a deal of two months of food for the price of one. (Even at half the price for the month, or about $300 each, it was still a monster of a bill. But did I say ‘We had to try something’?)

We let Nutrisystem pick the food the first month. When that first shipment arrived, it was overwhelming. A month’s worth of food — breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks. Some of it came in a huge cardboard box. The frozen foods came in styrofoam packed with dry ice. 

The first week requires you to follow their regimen closely, including a protein shake. (Pro tip from my wife: You can substitute coffee for the water in the shake to get your morning fix. As you’ll quickly learn, it’s all about saving calories where you can.)

Some of the Nutrisystem food is good — the grilled chicken sandwiches for lunch are yummy and convenient. Some of it is really bad — the breakfast omelets lack taste and are rubbery. And I learned something about myself. I really, really like multigrain bread. I’d never really given it a chance. I’ve also come to love seeing my plate covered in vegetables, cauliflower rice substituting for the starches that once had a prominent place.

The surprise, at least for me, was the type of food included in the Nutrisystem meals. There were a lot of pasta meals. Carbs, really? 

But what became abundantly clear is that the success of this — or any — weight loss program is counting and tracking calories, combining some exercise and changing habits. We did all of that.

You’ll see me walking through downtown Vineyard Haven sometime around noon each day. The hills are perfect for getting the heart pumping on a quick walk. I also walk quickly past the goody table in the office, especially on Wednesdays when our proofreader Barbara Davis is likely to surprise us all with a bag of Reese’s (210 calories) from Stop & Shop, or Tina Miller might bring in a dozen doughnuts. (I treat myself to a 100-calorie fudgesicle after dinner.)

Nutrisystem has an app called NuMi that helps you track calories and progress, but my wife found an even better app, called Lose It. It has a feature that takes a photo of the universal product code (UPC, or that series of lines and numbers on every package) to enter the calorie amount of a serving into the app. It calculates the calories and let’s you know, at the end of the day, how many calories under your goal you are — hopefully. It helped me figure out, for example, that I was wasting way too many calories on my large Cumby’s coffee with light cream and two sugars (a calorie bomb at 260). By switching to half & half with one Stevia in the Raw packet, my coffee is only 88 calories. My entire breakfast is now fewer calories than that large coffee I used to enjoy. Most days, I’m 400 to 500 calories under what I’m allotted to lose 1 pound a week, also calculated by the Lose It app. So it’s no surprise that I’ve lost 18 pounds in a little less than two months, just two pounds shy of my goal to lose 20.

Most people don’t notice or they’re too polite to say anything, but it doesn’t matter. I notice.

My pants feel better. (I could actually go down a full waist size.) More important, I feel better physically. No heavy breathing on my walks to and from the ferry in the morning and evening.

I’d recommend a prepared meal plan like Nutrisystem to get in the right habits. It really does make it easier. We’ve stopped the automatic shipments — though I do still order some of the lunches from Nutrisystem à la carte because it’s just easier to pop a frozen sandwich in my bag and then pop that in the microwave at work. Throw on a slice of tomato and lettuce, and it’s really good.

We’ve gotten back to cooking our favorite foods, just in smaller portions and with healthier twists.

The months ahead are frightening. I managed to get by Halloween (though there aren’t any trick-or-treat bags to poach from these days), but Thanksgiving is my favorite, and I can’t imagine one without mashed potatoes. And the holidays with all of the gatherings?

Let’s hope where there’s a will(power), there’s a way.